Northern Nigeria is facing an increasing number of “bandit attacks”, kidnappings and killings, a traditional leader said on Friday, joining two state governors in warning over worsening security.
Rural farming communities in north Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states have for years struggled with armed criminal gangs who steal cattle and kidnap for ransom.
But local officials have warned about growing violence after several hundred people were killed in the first half of last year and criminal attacks killed dozens in December alone.
Increasing criminal violence in the northwest complicates security for Nigeria’s army which is already battling to an insurgency by Boko Haram militants in the northeast.
“We have been living in fear, abductions have become a daily affair,” said Isah Muhammad Galadima, spokesman for the head of Birnin Gwari region in Kaduna State.
“We lose lives to armed bandits every day…. the government is not serious in arresting the bandits,” he told AFP.
Last week, the military launched air strikes in the neighbouring Zamfara State, targeting criminal gangs but that only forced them to disperse throughout the region, he said.
Governors of Zamfara and Katsina, two northwestern states heavily affected by banditry, have in recent days criticised the security situation in the region.
On Monday, following talks with the army, police and intelligence services, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State said citizens were increasingly fearful.
“The people of Katsina in the 34 local governments now sleep with one eye closed and the other open,” he said. “Our state is in a dangerous situation.”
Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari met President Muhammadu Buhari this week in the capital Abuja, later saying he had urged the president to bolster security in rural communities.
Growing criminality in Katsina, Buhari’s home state, and in the northwest, his strongest regional support base, has also increased criticism from within his party, ahead of presidential elections in February.
In July, Amnesty International said Zamfara was “at the mercy” of armed bandits who had killed at least 371 people in the first six months of the year.
Last month, there were two major gang attacks in Zamfara, that left at least 42 people dead.
Armed gangs thrive by hiding in the vast forests stretching across northwestern Nigeria and Niger.
In April, Buhari ordered troops and the Nigerian Air Force jets to deploy to Zamfara to fight the gangs, and the air force returned there after the recent killings.
Last week, 10 troops were killed on Niger’s border with Nigeria in a joint operation by the two countries against the criminal gangs, according to Nigerien Defence Minister, Kalla Moutari.